Armenians commemorate massacre

Al Jazeera spoke with Armenians visiting Istanbul about what the events of 1915 mean to them.

Armenian centennial
Women pray at an Istanbul church during events to commemorate the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks [Reuters]

Istanbul – The centennial anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire is being commemorated in Istanbul with a series of events organised by Turkish and foreign non-governmental organisations.

The city is hosting Armenians from all around the world, most of whose ancestors were affected by the incidents of 1915, when Turkish authorities expelled Armenians from their homes in eastern Anatolia to Syria. Armenia and various other governments say it was a genocide, a view rejected by Turkey.

Armenians, together with Turkish activists, have been organising activities including concerts, discussion panels and ceremonies for several days before marking the 100th anniversary on Friday. Al Jazeera spoke with Armenians visiting Istanbul from various parts of the world to find out what 1915 means to them.

Ronald Anemian, 35, civil engineer, France
Ronald Anemian [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera] 
Ronald Anemian [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera] 
Seta Zadikian, 36, travel agent, Bulgaria
Seta Zadikian [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera] 
Seta Zadikian [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera] 

It is my second year commemorating the genocide in Istanbul. I am a great grandchild of a survivor, so it is my duty to be here.

When I came over here last year, I felt surprised and proud, seeing Armenians and Turkish people fighting together for the recognition of the genocide.

Last year, I found the grave of my great-grandfather’s brother, who used to be a patriarch in Istanbul during the time of the genocide. Nobody in the family knew where it was. My family, particularly my grandmother, was very touched when I told her that.

I think Armenians from the diaspora should unite and come over to Istanbul on commemoration days. Everything started here, so it is our obligation to be here, standing side by side with the Turkish civil society.

Anne Chouchane Der Haroutiounian, 25, architecture student, France
Anne Chouchane Der Haroutiounian [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera]
Anne Chouchane Der Haroutiounian [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera]

I don’t remember when my parents told me about the genocide, but I was young. I remember having a very high sense of justice and injustice at a very early age, as well as anger and pain. The genocide influenced my character a lot.

My uncle from my father’s family, who is an academic, decided to write a book on the genocide and my family’s story. They were from Ankara. And they fled from there to Marseilles, France, during the genocide.

I don’t think [the Turkish government’s condolences to Armenians around the world] in the last two years mean anything. They have to do something at a some point… I believe the way it is done is insulting, as at the same time they are talking about deporting [Armenian immigrants here]. I see no progress.

Nicolas Tavitian, 39, NGO director, Belgium
Nicolas Tavitian [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera] 
Nicolas Tavitian [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera] 

I have come here every year since 2013 for the commemoration. The Armenian genocide is a very tragic event, an incident that you want to leave behind, but it always follows you. You push it out of the door, but it comes in through the window. When you have something like this, you have to face it, deal with it.

My ancestors were from Istanbul and they survived 1915 in different ways. Some of the people in family were targeted by arrests on April 24; fortunately, my grandmother’s parents escaped the arrests. And in 1922, they left the country.

The genocide has created disruptions in the lives of descendants of the survivors on political and psychological levels, affecting their relations with the rest of the society.

The tradition of the state in Turkey considers acknowledging the genocide as a loss of face and power. When a new government comes into power in Turkey, they also take over a very heavy state tradition, which also includes the denial policy on the Armenian genocide.

Shaghig Matevossian, 22, student, Bulgaria
Shaghig Matevossian [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera]
Shaghig Matevossian [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera]

I am very happy to be here, despite the warnings. It is a big step for me. I have listened to stories of the genocide from my grandparents, passed on to them by their grandparents.

I never thought that I could interact with Turkish people. But when I moved to Sofia, I found Turkish friends who accept the genocide, or openly discuss it although they don’t accept it.

My mother’s grandmother was born in eastern Turkey, then moved to Georgia, escaping the genocide. My parents generally don’t want to talk about the issue, just saying it was a hard time for them.

The Turkish government’s statements in recent years [sending condolences to Armenians] are a good step, but it is not enough. Recognition of the genocide would be good for Armenia, but also for Turkey. And it is crucial to fix the relations between the two countries.

Satenik Baghdasaryan, 25, researcher, Armenia
Satenik Baghdasaryan [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera] 
Satenik Baghdasaryan [Huseyin Narin/Al Jazeera] 

In Armenia, Armenians have been commemorating the genocide since 1965. Policymakers, media, academics and all other parts of the society are united on the issue.

For me, the centre of the recognition issue is Turkey. And therefore, Turkey acknowledging the genocide is much more important to me than US President Barack Obama using the word in public.

Many countries recognise the genocide and we are hoping that this will push Turkey towards a policy change. I am happy to stand with the people in Turkey who also commemorate the genocide.

Source: Al Jazeera